Sven and Ole go fishing. It’s such a great day, they rent a boat so they can fish from the middle of the lake. They row out, drop their lines, and before you know it, they're catching fish, one after another after another. They can’t believe what a great fishing spot they found. Sven says, “This is the best fishing spot in the county. It’s just too bad we didn’t bring some paint.” Ole asks, “Paint? Why should you want paint, to go fishing?” “Well Ole, don’t you see, so we can paint an “X” in the bottom of the boat, so we can find this spot next time.” Ole laughs at him. “Sven, don’t be such a dummy! Next time, what if they give us a different boat?”
Fishin’ stories often are about the one that got away, or as Sven and Ole show us, the one’s who aren’t all there. The fishin’ stories we have before us today are about the ones that do the fishin’. These are stories about how individuals and communities are transformed and changed. They continue our series of stories about saying yes to God’s call to ministry. Jonah himself is transformed from a reluctant prophet to a messenger of God, and the story of Jonah is about a whole community that was transformed. In Mark, Simon and his brother Andrew, and James and John, heard Jesus’ call, and were transformed; they left what they were doing and followed Jesus. These stories are about change, and these stories are deeply hopeful, they are all about not being stuck in the old patterns, but about the willingness to respond to the call of transformation and change.
Jonah is a reluctant prophet. Going where he is told to go is the last thing he wants to do. The story opens with Jonah fleeing to Tarshish. He hides on a ship from God, and when a mighty storm came up the crew threw Jonah into the sea to stop it. Jonah didn’t die in the sea because of the fish. In the belly of that fish Jonah remembered who he was, he remembered that God was God, he remembered his relationship with God, and Jonah was saved. Remembering who you are in the belly of a fish seems like a fishy story to me, but the truth lies in the reality of that experience. When have you been in the belly of a fish? When have you had an experience that would either kill you or transform you? That experience may well be the essence of your call. In the belly of that fish Jonah came to realize that he no longer could say no to God, he could no longer run away from who he was called to be.
So the people of Nineveh are about their evil ways. God knows that evil ways beget negative consequences. The job of a prophet, albeit a reluctant one, is to call the people to turn back to God, to turn away from greed, to turn away from idol worship, to repent. That is what God is asking of Jonah, God calls him to tell the people of Nineveh to change. The consequences for Nineveh on the path they are in are dire. But they hear God’s call to repent, and they believe God and change their ways. A whole city is willing to believe God and be transformed. Jonah is a whole book about people who weren’t supposed to get it. And yet they got it. The people believed God, and a whole community changed. I think it’s important to hear that they believed God, they didn’t believe in God. They believed God, they believed what God had to say through Jonah, and they believed in God’s abundant love for them.
I much more easily identify with Jonah, the reluctant prophet, the one who had to spend some time in the belly of a fish, than I do with Simon and Andrew, and James and John, to whom Jesus said, follow me, and immediately they left their nets and their kin and followed him. I wonder if fishing was really that bad, or if maybe they had heard about this Jesus, who Mark tells us in the first line of his story, is the Son of God. I wonder if they, like the people of Nineveh, believed God. Earlier in Mark’s story, Jesus is baptized in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, the heavens were torn apart, and the Spirit descended like a dove on him, and a voice came from heaven, You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased. I think this is what Simon and Andrew, James and John knew was true, and because they believed God, because they knew that the truth was in incarnation, the truth was contained in the reality of God with us, God in our midst, they were willing to leave their livelihood and their kin, to follow this One.
When we meet God we are changed. When we meet God in our midst, God with us, we are no longer the same. That is the reality of what Simon and Peter, and James and John did. This story Mark tells is a story that illustrates how Jesus changes everything. That change is described in these stories that show us that everything is turned around, topsy-turvy, the first shall be last and the last shall be first, the social order of the day is changed. So Mark is saying that Jesus changes the social order. Who you are is no longer defined by your family; it is no longer defined by the privilege, or lack of privilege into which you are born. They left their homes, they left their kin, they were changed in a very real way, and it is that very real way that points us to the transformation that results by our meeting God, whether in the belly of a fish, or while we are fishing. Therein lies the hope. Who we are is defined by God’s abundant love for us and God’s delight in us. Not by what our culture counts as value.
But meeting God in our midst changes us in ways that call for a response. Jonah responds, Simon and Andrew, James and John respond. Follow me, Jesus says. What is your response? God is up to something in each of our lives, God is up to something in our community, God is up to something in our country, Follow me, Jesus says. The call is to follow; the response is up to you.
Here at St. Andrew’s we have committed ourselves to God’s mission in the world. We have committed ourselves to helping those in our community who are hurting, those who have been hurt by the church, those who cannot believe in a God who requires them only to follow rules, to experience God whose love can transform them. We have committed ourselves to showing God who is in our midst, God who requires us to love one another as we have first been loved, God who enables us to bear fruit.
As we gather together this day for our annual meeting, we will celebrate what God is up to in our lives, and in the live of our church, We will look ahead to the next year, giving thanks that God’s abundance enables us to go about the work we believe God calls us to do. We will recommit ourselves to responding to God’s call. Each of you has a role in that response. Jesus says, follow me. How will you respond?
The Lord has shown forth his glory: Come let us adore him.
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